Luxury sector turns a page

Luxury brands find that content creation can heighten their aspirational quality. 

Above: Four Seasons has a series of magazines for emerging markets including Russia and South America

Companies such as luxury five star hotel chain Four Seasons and UK wealth manager Barclays Wealth and Investment Management are providing more content for their consumers, but with a discerning audience luxury brands must think carefully about their strategy.

Barclays Wealth relaunched its client-facing website for high-net-worth individual clients last month. Focusing on content, how users experience the site and intelligent search and sharing, the website enables clients to save content to read later, or send on to colleagues or friends and includes an online financial personality assessment, which gives clients insight into their behaviour and strategy. It aims to help them overcome emotional barriers to investment goals (see Q&A, below).

This year, the company has also improved the personalisation and segmentation of its Little Book of Wonders portal. It offers a ‘curated world’ of events, experiences and insights from Barclays and selected luxury brand partners such as Gucci, McLaren and Harry Winston.

The content is organised around 12 lifestyle interest areas ranging from home, family and travel to sporting life, cars and planes.

Creating new print and digital platforms with content, both related and unrelated to their field, enables luxury brands to regain control of their brand message, which is increasingly difficult to achieve with the rise of social media, as well as improving brand awareness and desire.

“Brands need to take a more editorial perspective and not an advertorial one,” says Henrietta Thompson, editor-at-large at Wallpaper magazine. “ Content needs to be original and interesting. Brands need to be brave, to move away from [the idea of] content directly translating into sales.”

In October, Four Seasons launched a series of pages on Douban, a Chinese website with 60 million registered users. A social network based on common interests of users, the platform is developed in the form of groups, mini sites and sub communities and is mobile friendly.

Four Seasons has also launched a series of language-specific magazine sites featuring content for luxury travellers in the emerging markets of Russia and South America. 

We wanted to consolidate our product communication in one central place that editorialises the sales story

“The way to ensure that our messaging is going to be close to what we would have said about ourselves is to create the platforms for engagement and sharing. [It is also about] delivering so much relevant and exciting content that people will use instead of creating their own,” explains the hotel brand’s executive vice-president for marketing Susan Helstab.

A truism of the luxury digital age is that brands no longer need to communicate via an intermediary says Imran Amed, founder of website The Business of Fashion. “Budgets previously allocated for advertisements in publications can be channelled to oneself and the brand can better control and measure communication,” he says.

Meanwhile, cruise line Cunard launched its first on-board luxury lifestyle magazine last month.

“Our onboard offering is vast in terms of our retail and leisure with shops, a spa, casino and weddings. The magazine resulted from wanting to consolidate our communication of all these products in one central place that editorialize the sales story,” says Ian Bayne, business development manager at Cunard owner Carnival UK.

Ted Moncreiff, editor of global luxury lifestyle magazine Bloomberg Pursuits and former editorial director of Condé Nast’s custom publishing division Ideactive argues that print magazines are a consistently strong chanel for the luxury lifestyle sector, allowing brands to control the message and the environment in which their content lives.

“The environment is incredibly important,” he says. “If you saw a Chanel dress hanging on a rack in H&M, you would regard it very differently to how you would in the Chanel boutique. There’s a lot of effort that goes into crafting not just the object, but the entire 360 degree experience. You lose that often on the web, where things get jumbled and you can’t control what’s around you.

“A magazine is still a place where we’re creating a whole world and the advertisers participate in it. We control it. We spend an enormous amount of effort making it persuasive, cohesive, inspiring and transporting and that’s, in part, what [consumers] are buying.”

Although brand-generated content is on the increase, Moncreiff warns that brand partnerships with organisations such as Bloomberg and earned media remain important content channels for luxury brands. “The information is always more credible when it comes from a third party,” he says.

It can also give increased access to an often hard-to-reach demographic.

Bloomberg Pursuits’ luxury lifestyle content can be accessed via the Bloomberg Professional service, a software platform providing real-time financial information and analytics tools to more than 300,000 subscribers.

Barclays Wealth’s Little Book of Wonders portal offers luxury experiences to high-net-worth individuals

“Most people in finance certainly, but also other industries, aren’t allowed onto the internet,” explains Moncreiff. “If you work in a big finance firm, for example, you can’t just log onto any website you want. Bloomberg is managing that relationship, they’re pre-approving that web page in a way that makes companies and their customers feel comfortable

“We all spend so much time at our desks that if you only rely on people to visit your website when they’re at home, you’re missing out on a lot of their time,” he adds.

Martin Bartle is a mentor for the Walpole British Luxury’s Brands of Tomorrow programme, a board member of Agent Provocateur and a former marketing director at Net-a-Porter.

He disagrees that producing more content could make luxury brands feel less exclusive, as feared by some in the sector and says that it could actually increase a brand’s aspirational status.

“Many luxury brands are built to have mass appeal – that’s how you create the aspirational element of a luxury brand. Everyone has got to want a piece of it, but with managed scarcity and distribution channels, one then creates something that is less attainable,” he explains.

“Marketing has always reached a much broader audience than one is expecting to buy the product.”

Bartle believes that ecommerce sites are at the forefront of this shift to more content.

“There is a lot more storytelling and it’s being woven into the more transactional areas of websites. We’re increasingly seeing editorial-style content, and by that I mean potentially video as well, being produced as an integral part of the ecommerce presentation,” he says.

However, creating engaging content is only half the battle. Marketers must ensure that consumers can access it, especially in international markets where growth is often strongest.

“A lot of brands are jumping ahead and starting the brand awareness before they’ve actually done the housekeeping,” says Bartle.

Research conducted by him for Walpole has found that long load speeds on luxury fashion websites are making it difficult for consumers to access content in a timely fashion, potentially leading to a decrease in conversion rates.

Bartle reviewed 250 web pages of designer brands and multi-brand stores across five countries; the UK, Brazil, Australia, India and China.

He found that over half of the web pages took more than 10 seconds to load.

Given that the BRIC countries represent 11 per cent (in 2012 according to Euromonitor) of the global market for luxury goods, this is a concern for luxury brands.

The fastest download time across the board was for the Chloe website in China at 1.25 seconds. The slowest individual site load speeds were in India and China at more than 120 seconds and the slowest average load speed for all sites was in India at more than 60 seconds.

An international website is just as important as a physical shopfront, says Amanda Burrell, events and marketing manager at the CMA. It needs to be reflective of the brand’s principles and offer a seamless customer experience. 

One way to combat this, believes Bartle, is the use of a content delivery network, where a brand takes its content and places it in the country where people are looking at the site.

“You take pictures, video, anything that’s quite heavy in terms of band width and put them on servers around the world,” says Bartle. “When the page is requested from your servers, rather than waiting for a server in London to respond, it recalls those assets from a local server, dramatically decreasing load time.”

For luxury brands, the right kind of content will be king.


David Hughes
Marketing Director 
Barclays Wealth and Investment Management 

Marketing Week (MW): Why is content becoming an increasingly important part of Barclays’ marketing strategy?

David Hughes (DH): The web presents enormous opportunity for clients and their advisors to engage more regularly and meaningfully and ‘content’ provides the necessary commentary when engaging digitally.

MW: What are the challenges of creating content in the luxury sector or for high net worth consumers?

DH: Credibility. For the brands to participate, we have to look, feel and sound like a proper luxury media platform. The same goes for clients. To work, it has to compete for their leisure time and speak to their interests and not look like a bolt-on to their online banking.

MW: What prompted the launch of the Little Book of Wonders content portal?

DH: We wanted to deliver exceptional client experience, deepen relationships, reward clients for their loyalty and create a clear point of differentiation. We saw the opportunity to develop a brand partnership programme to improve on the occasional adhoc activity from luxury brands.

If we could create a compelling platform to present these opportunities direct to clients, more of them would get an opportunity to participate, and as we gained a reputation for connecting luxury brands through experiential marketing with an interested, fully qualified audience, more eligible brands would participate, enriching the service.  

MW: What learnings have you taken since it began?

DH: There was scepticism initially that an audience of this nature would take the time to engage with what was ostensibly a ‘lifestyle’ service from a wealth manager, but take up and engagement has been due in large part to the quality of experiences on offer from more than 100 brand partners.

MW: What changes have you made?

DH: The introduction of tighter personalisation and segmentation earlier this year that enables us to target events to precise wealth bands, ensuring that brands and clients are matched perfectly.  

MW: What is the benefit to the brand?

DH: Acting as the intermediary between the brand experience and a willing client base allows us to surprise and delight clients on a daily basis, while at the same time learning more about their interests and passions. 




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